The Hounds of Discernment

uglydogLyndon and I are preparing our chapter reviews of Michael Brown’s Authentic Fire for a possible ebook of our own. The material will be updated a bit and greatly expanded, particularly Lyndon’s stuff. Not sure when it will be available. We have both finished our principle reedit of our posts, and we just recently exchanged our chapters with each other. I am working through Lyndon’s material, offering my insights and suggestions.

One of Michael Brown’s complaints he levels in his book against cessationists is their meanness and vitriol they express when they go after what they perceive is heresy. That attitude is really witnessed among those cessationists who run online “discernment” ministries. I don’t necessarily disagree with Dr. Brown on that point. So-called discernment ministries can be downright nasty at times.

As I was reviewing one of Lyndon’s chapters yesterday, I came across this wonderful rant he offered in response to Dr. Brown’s complaint. I thought it was well stated and worth bringing out for others to consider.


The “conspicuous lack of love” manifest in cessationist circles is something that I both recognize and condemn openly.  I have, and do, urge cessationists to never hound anyone on Twitter, Facebook, or any other social media (especially if you’ve never had previous contact with them at all).  Some cessationists are absolutely shameful jerks (and far too frequently are even socially handicapped) and that should not be the case.

What’s more, there’s the “discernment ministry” folks out there who somehow think that it’s the business of a person without any sort of biblical office to “call out” heretics on the internet.   Calling for the repentance of random strangers when they don’t know them, aren’t in any of their circles of contact, and aren’t holding any sort of biblical office (namely, an elder in a church) reveals a profound lack of discernment.

What’s worse is that, in my experience, the “discernment ministry” folks (often the most aggressive of the cessationists) who like to hop on social media or their own websites and “call out” random or infamous charismatics tend to respond to criticism far worse than the charismatics they go after.  When those “discernment ministry” folks are faced with something stupid or sinful that they do, they’re frequently violently resistant to correction and attack those who attempt to confront their foolishness/sin.

Yet, they somehow expect people who likely get wheelbarrows of hate mail (i.e. any popular personality in Christendom) to somehow read a few tweets from a random agitator, and then overthrow what’s likely decades of tradition/commitment to a theological position, and repent.  Even worse, more than a few of the “discernment ministry” folks appear to think their duty is done as long as they’ve pointed to any unbiblical idea that someone has ever been associated with and demanded repentance.  Once heretics have been informed of their error, the “discernment ministry” folks appear to feel like their job is done.  In case I’ve been unclear, too many “discernment ministry” folks do far more harm than good.  On this point, I agree with Michael Brown and wish I had the power to teach a cabal of specific individuals some basic social etiquette.

Discernment is one of the things that they claim to have, but more often than not it’s simply a neurotic fascination with people who are in theological error.  It may seem obvious, but 1 Pet. 5:2 is a commission strictly given to the elders in 1 Pet. 5:1.  Titus 1:9 is a directive given to the overseers who are mentioned in Titus 1:7.  1 Tim. 6:20 is a command specifically addressed to Timothy, as is the command in 2 Tim. 1:14 and 2:2 (and basically all the other go-to texts that “discernment ministry” folks use to justify their existence).  More often than not, the passages that do directly apply to them (i.e. Titus. 2:3-5) are being habitually and systematically disobeyed.

22 thoughts on “The Hounds of Discernment

  1. You know, I hold no office whatsoever; I’m just a guy who likes to write some things down and pray maybe somebody might be reached. I have even had a thing or two to way about a particular preacher out there(Joel Osteen). What hateful folks ought to remember is that if their purpose is to just attack somebody, it is wrong. If their purpose is to teach and edify the body of Christ, then go for it. But, all of us should really consider why we write the things we write and analyze our motives.

  2. That was really interesting to read. I suppose the obvious question is what Scripture gives Lyndon the right to judge the discernment ministries. I am not sure I think there is a problem with someone writing about their discernment; it is the lack of charity often attached which shows a bit of hypocrisy.

  3. I guess my point was this. If I am an outsider who didn’t know Lyndon – it could appear to me, based on a shallow reading of his final paragraph that the very rebuke Lyndon’s article leveled against some others could be leveled against him as well, since he is none of these folks’ pastor.

    FWIW, I’m not saying that. It just seemed like he needs to explain why the scriptures in the last paragraph apply the way they do (or do not) better.

    It almost appears as if he is saying there should be no such thing as a discernment ministry, or discernment blog. I’m not sure I could agree with that without more convincing from Scripture than was provided here.

  4. Maybe,
    But the difference is that his comments are not directed toward individual personalities as they are toward a specific class of self-appointed internet dwellers who have taken it upon themselves to offer their correctives and rebukes to individuals they do not know, nor possibly could persuade in any meaningful fashion.

    In many cases, not only do they not know the persons under their scrutiny, but many times they have partial information regarding the situation they are warning against and will falsely attribute to the persons attitudes and motives the discernment critics themselves could never possibly discern.

    Now that’s not to say that we are forbidden now to comment on the behavior and/or comments of a public personality, nor are we not allowed to review and offer opinions and correctives to published books, blog articles, sermons, and the like. It is just that we need to do it with a bit of class and gravitas, and in way that is winsome and instructive. And that doesn’t exclude snark or sarcasm if such may be called for.

    I would also note that if friendly detractors provide push back to one’s critical remarks, rather than dismissing those detractors, hear them out and consider what it is they are reacting against. Doing so can go a long way with gaining respectability with readers.

  5. Great news. That’s EXACTLY what I believed. :)

    So, for what it is worth, Lyndon’s article is great but the last paragraph needs reworking and explanation so it is more helpful, especially before you would put it in a book.

  6. The last paragraph is actually a footnote/endnote in the written material. It went with the article, so I pulled it as well because of its relevance.

  7. “It may seem obvious, but 1 Pet. 5:2 is a commission strictly given to the elders in 1 Pet. 5:1. Titus 1:9 is a directive given to the overseers who are mentioned in Titus 1:7. 1 Tim. 6:20 is a command specifically addressed to Timothy, as is the command in 2 Tim. 1:14 and 2:2 […]”

    I guess the obvious question is: not for women, right?

  8. “But there are other directives in Scripture that permits a woman to exhort others in these areas.”

    Only in the context of the local church? Can you tell me what those other directives are? Thanks!

  9. As a Christian woman, you are just as bound to the directives to contend for the faith as any man would be. You also have a special word to disciple younger women in Titus 2. The difference is that you are not pastoring, and those ladies who are married should keep her relationship with her husband in mind.

    As a guy, I don’t blog about heretics and troublemakers and warn people about heretical teaching for my church. IOW, I am not an elder, nor a pastor, as it were. My blog is pretty much my own. And I have know to chase after individuals in a discernment ministry fashion.

    But I attend a well taught church and have a reputation with a group of godly men who not only attend my church, but I also know through the internet. If I were to do something stupid, or write something off the wall, or be mean to someone in such a fashion that it risked tarnishing my character if I didn’t deal with it, I would trust their emails and private messages when they offer their rebukes to my behavior. I would hope you would cultivate the same thing as well among your circle of friends on the internet and at your church.

  10. Good answer! Thanks Fred!

    “But I attend a well taught church”, well, there is that. =)

  11. I don’t know of this might help clarify, buy here’s my points I was TRYING to make:

    1. Cessationists are often jerks and disobey clear passages like Eph. 4:29-32, Col. 4:5-6, etc.

    2. Many (not all) “discernment ministry” folks attempt to illicit a response of repentance in a way that they themselves would never respond to.

    3. Many (not all) “discernment ministry” folks don’t really even seem to meaningfully work towards repentance, but rather seem content to publicly announce error (and seem obsessed with the errors of others).

    4. The texts that they appeal to for justifying their activities don’t apply to them and they don’t seem meaningfully aware of the texts that are relevant to themselves.

    This doesn’t rule out discernment ministry in general, and it doesn’t mean that it’s a boys only club. Priscilla AND Aquilla “took him and explained the way of God to him more fully” (Acts 18:26). Priscilla probably didn’t just sit there and nod while Aquilla did all the talking.

    I’m going to actually ferret out the point about women more fully in a second book I have in the works: “Becoming a Titus 2 Church”. The stuff I’ve read on Titus 2 is actually frustratingly bad, and it always focuses on the women exclusively while ignoring the whole blueprint for church life that is laid out there. The instruction for women only makes sense and works when the whole model is being pursued.

    I’ve grown quite burdened over the bad teaching that women have received and how confused so many of them are on what they’re supposed to do in church life. Women have vital roles and actually bear a majority of the practical church discipleship work in a majority of church situations, but they’re really unprepared and unclear on what exactly that is or looks like.

  12. Frankly, the apostles, prophets, and Jesus himself engaged in plenty of harsh and ridiculing public rebuke of false teachers and their followers. But let’s pretend that they didn’t for now. Because unless you name names, and give examples of who you have in mind, this kind of blanket critique simply serves to give everyone leave to use it against everyone they disagree with. Because you know that far too many legitimate public critiques or rebukes end up being painted as ‘uncharitable’ and mean-spirited.

  13. I agree to a great extent with Michael A. Coughlin, especially in reference to Lyndon’s last paragraph, where I don’t think many of the verses quoted mean what is upheld. And I would add also the preceding paragraph where the concern is expressed that a discernment site which warns readers or listeners about a serious error or “other gospel” is somehow lacking in biblical warrant to do so if the person being written or spoken about is not an individual known by the believer exercising the discernment. I believe we are called one and all, whether ordained church office holder or not, whether knowing well the false teacher or being a complete stranger, to warn fellow believers when we see with biblical warrant that they are being exposed unwittingly to the dangers of false teaching which can result in the shipwreck of their faith.

    I concur with Michael that the almost inescapable conclusion to adherence to this tenet would be that all discernment sites would be closed down. If we know on a personal basis or in some personal context the person whom we believe is in error, the biblical teaching is that we should approach that person privately and directly. So by the writer Lyndon’s mandate, it would seem to follow that ALL public discernment sites which hold up to biblical light teachings which have been publicly printed or broadcasted, and comment on error within same, would be without scriptural mandate. After all, when we don’t know personally the person we’re writing about, our warnings are apparently inappropriate, according to this dictate.

    As to the verses in the last paragraph, the assertion is made in Lyndon’s writing,, and correct me if I am misreading this, that since 1 Tim. 6:20, as well as 2 Tim. 1:14, and 2:2, are as Lyndon points out, addressed to Timothy directly by Paul. I seem to be hearing the inference that as such, they are therefore not for us to put into practice, (that is, those of us lacking ordained Biblical office and not being Timothy). In other words, what these verses teach is not to be seen as universal Christian truth.. Rather, that the things spoken of in these verses such as: avoiding babble and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge, or guarding by the Holy Spirit the good deposit entrusted to us, or being faithful men being able to teach others, these words were just personal asides from Paul to student Timothy which we are allowed to eavesdrop in on.

    I find great fault in Michael Brown’s book Authentic Fire in many areas, but I would not view these rebuttals as effective counterpoints to any of the problematic chapters in his book. Sorry if I come across as mean-spirited. I can assure you that is not my intent. Thanks for your consideration.

    In Christ,
    JD Ellis

  14. JD,
    Was it you who wrote that odd ball post against my articles on the spiritual danger of conspiracy theories? I think it claimed I only wrote those posts so I could smear the crackpot, Bob Johnson.

  15. What?? I have left a total of two comments on your blog. The first one was on June 23 this year, on the article titled “so you don’t like John MacArthur….” on that occasion I was simply trying to offer scriptural defense on behalf of a commenter named Lee Kirkwood who was rather viciously being attacked by hrgreenjr for simply saying John MacArthur has been a great blessing to him. You jumped in immediately and closed comments for the article claiming I had led the discussion to become “mean spirited”. The readers can judge for themselves.

    The second and only other time I have left a comment on your blog is right above, which I felt was well reasoned and supported by scripture. I was expecting some sort of disagreement from you due to the previous experience on your comment section, but it was like a kick in the gut to read your reply. Now your rudeness is really coming front and center, and I know its not my imagination. You are a very rude person, not a good quality to have as a discernment blogger.

    If you put down the coffee mug long enough to actually click on my username, which links to my discernment blog, which I could not have logged into to post my comment in the first place without knowing the password, you would see that since 2011 I have posted numerous articles the bulk of which have been themed on the spiritual danger of conspiracy theory types, and how they drag Christians away from the truth of the gospel.

    To use odd ball and crackpot in the same sentence in your reply, one of the terms aimed squarely at me, brings a new meaning the term “hound’. The hound always howls closest to the food bowl.

    If Bob Johnson, whoever he is, is a crackpot, I would have applauded your comments. I hardly would have called it “smearing”. Read a snippet of my blog, get informed about someone before hurling epithets before hurling hostile epithets.

    JD Ellis

  16. Hey JD,
    I totally take that back. I saw your website and had you confused with another End Times themed blog with a similar title. My apologies! For a moment, I was wondering why that guy would come back here and leave a friendly comment. I repent in sackcloth and ashes.


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